Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | Change of Schedule?

The San Diego City Employee’s Retirement System’s actuary attended Friday’s pension board meeting to render his opinion of the amount the SDCERS board should bill the city in the upcoming year.

It’s the same as he estimated before: $162 million.

But citizen trustee Peter Q. Davis’ question about a looming change in the amount of time the city must pay down its pension debt prompted, perhaps, the most interesting part of the meeting.

Voters approved Prop G in 2004 in an effort to shorten the timetable that governs how long the city has to pay off its now-$1.4 billion pension debt from 30 years to 15 years, thereby forcing larger payments over a shorter period of time. The switchover is slated to happen in fiscal year 2009.

However, some SDCERS trustees have hinted that they do not intend to honor Prop G just for the sake of doing so. Harvey Leiderman, the system’s fiduciary counsel, said that setting the debt timetable was “squarely the responsibility of the board, acting on the advice of its actuary.”

Leiderman said that the state Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion that claimed the California Constitution did not allow a plan sponsor — in this case, the city and its voters — to dictate the terms of the pension bill. He said the board should take up that matter soon.

“If it’s not resolved cooperatively, it may be resolved in court,” Leiderman said.


No Development in BIA Suit

The local building industry’s lawyer squared off with City Attorney Mike Aguirre in court today to argue over the legality of an affordable housing law that the developer group claims is unconstitutional.

The city’s law requires that 10 percent of a residential project’s units be priced affordably or that the developer pay an “in-lieu fee” that is stockpiled to build affordable housing.

The Building Industry Association of San Diego County argues the law is unconstitutional because the city is forcing developers to set aside units or pay a fee for the sake of affordability when that is not a negative impact caused by the building of market-rate housing.

Superior Court Judge John Meyer did not issue a tentative ruling on the dispute, but said that he probably would have rejected the builders’ lawsuit if he did. He said he wanted to review the two attorneys’ arguments and the law governing the case before making a final judgment.

Stay tuned, as a ruling will probably come within the next two weeks.


Boling for Pension Bucks

Superior Court Judge Yuri Hoffman rejected a local accountant’s lawsuit against the county’s pension system, saying she didn’t have significant standing in the matter. The suit argues that the county pension board is allowing the Board of Supervisors to pay off its pension debt in an unlawfully slow manner.

The plaintiff’s attorney will be allowed to revise the case and file it again within 20 days.

April Boling, who chaired the Pension Reform Committee that suggested ways to cure ills related to the city’s handling of its retirement plan, alleged that the way the county pension plan bills the Board of Supervisors makes no progress in paying down its billion-dollar pension debt.

Hoffman said the SDCERA board is allowed to let the county pay off its bill over 30 years. The county of San Diego is currently on a 20-year schedule.

“The law is not ambiguous. We did not see how anyone could disagree with the court’s conclusion that the plain language of the state retirement law requires only that the County must fully pay the bill over a period that does not exceed 30 years,” SDCERA CEO Brian White said in a press statement. “Obviously, a 20-year payment schedule falls within the lawful range.”

Boling claims that the 30-year “amortization” requirement for SDCERA means that each annual payment must reduce the debt. Between the 2004 and 2005 pension bills, the county’s pension deficit grew from $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion — a result of “negative amortization” that Boling argued was illegal under the state law governing county pension systems.

Attorney Michael Conger, who represented Boling, said he will likely add a SDCERA pensioner to the case in order to gain better standing to bring the suit and said he is considering suing the county in the same suit. Conger said that county still has pension debt leftover from the 1970s that has not been paid.


Italiano Delay Retired

The city’s retirement board approved the presidential retirement benefit for Municipal Employees Association President Judie Italiano on Friday despite warnings by the City Attorney’s Office that appeared earlier to have thrown a wrench in Italiano’s already-delayed retirement plans.

Executive Assistant City Attorney Don McGrath pointed out to the retirement board last week that the municipal code states that Italiano’s benefit should be based on her city salary as a payroll clerk, while the resolution passed by the City Council says Italiano should be able to combine her union and city salary when figuring her retirement pay. The resolution, McGrath said, is null and void.

MEA’s attorney, Ann Smith, told the board members that they shouldn’t hold up Italiano’s benefit because “the city should not raise a technicality at this late hour.” The discrepancy was minor and could have been worked out prior to Italiano’s retirement had it been brought up before, she said.

David Wescoe, the new administrator for the retirement plan, initially asked the council to clarify the discrepancy, but waived off the caution at Friday’s board meeting. Italiano’s benefit was approved by an 8-to-3 vote.

Italiano’s retirement has been held up by the pension system’s tax counsel for two years. She will remain as the white-collar union’s general manager and fingerprint examiner John Torres will assume the MEA presidency.


More and More Homes

The county’s home inventory is edging up towards another milestone. According to ZipRealty, a real estate brokerage firm, 20,473 homes were listed for sale on the county’s multiple listing service.

Meanwhile, downtown San Diego added another 20 condos to its inventory list. According to figures compiled by Lew Breeze, a downtown Realtor, 518 condos are now up for sale in the 92010 ZIP code. That’s more than ever before.

Meanwhile, the median price of the condos up for grabs dropped, sinking to $625,000 from $629,000.


IBA Report

The independent budget analyst today recommended a list of changes the City Council should make before approving Mayor Jerry Sanders’ budget proposal.

In the report, Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin recommended making a number of technical changes and corrections to the budget, as well as removing the mayor’s $374 million borrowing plan for the beleaguered pension system because of a number of uncertainties surrounding the proposal. Sanders has said he will pull back on the borrowing plan and bring it before the council at a later date.

She also recommended adding 30 civilian positions to the Police Department, which is experiencing recruitment and retention problems. Officials say hiring 30 civilians would allow sworn officers to leave desk jobs and return to the streets.

The report lists changes item-by-item.

In a press conference today, Sanders supported Tevlin’s changes. He also said:

— His upcoming trip to Washington, D.C. was originally scheduled to only cover border issues, but he has now scheduled two meetings with White House officials regarding his request that President Bush seize the land that houses the Mount Soledad Cross.


City’s Cross Conundrum

There’s been some confusion as to what exactly the San Diego City Council will be voting on when it meets to discuss the fate of the Mount Soledad Cross on Tuesday, May 23.

Jim McElroy, the attorney who’s been fighting to bring the cross down, said yesterday that the council will essentially be voting on whether they should continue to fight the legal battle for the future of the cross.

Pam Hardy, spokeswoman for Council President Scott Peters, told me just now that the council will vote on two things:

— Whether the city should continue the appeal it began against San Diego Superior Court Judge Patricia Cowett’s decision that Proposition A was unconstitutional and therefore null and void. Cowett decided last October that the proposition, which would have transferred the cross and the property it sits on to federal land, was itself an unconstitutional aid to religion. The city filed a notice to appeal, but has so far not done very much else to push the appeal forward.

— Whether the city should ask for a stay against the recent decision by U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson, Jr. Thompson ruled on Wednesday, May 3, that the city must move the cross off city owned land or it will be fined $5,000 a day for every day the cross remains there. The city will also consider appealing Thompson’s decision, but needs to ask for a stay to buy itself more time to fight any appeals.

Hardy did not say that the council will be considering the future of the cross per se. She also did not say that the council will be asked to comment on the recent actions of Congressman Duncan Hunter (Rep., El Cajon) and San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders to save the cross. Hunter and Sanders both wrote to President Bush recently asking him to personally intervene and transfer the cross to federal land using eminent domain.

No word on that one yet from the White House.


Even Less Affordable

Last year, there was a big fuss made about a study that found San Diego was one of the least-affordable places to live in the United States.

The figure bandied around last fall was that only 8 percent of San Diego’s homes were  affordable for the median income earners in the county. The study, known as the Housing Opportunity Index, which is issued quarterly by the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo bank, just released its latest findings.

San Diego’s down to 5.2 percent.

That means that only 5.2 percent of all the homes out there are affordable for most people. That makes San Diego the sixth-least-affordable housing market in the nation. 

The study is criticized by some, however, because it doesn’t take into account the possibility of so-called “creative financing” or the fact that many people tap the equity they have built up in their current residences to put towards buying their new home.

Gary London, president of the London Group Realty Advisors in San Diego, called the index “somewhat fictional.”

Then again, however, the index is fictional for everyone. It’s also fictional for Lansing-East Lansing, Michigan, where 92.7 percent of the homes are affordable for the median income. That’s the country’s most affordable market, according to the study.

The last affordable market in the nation is Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, where — get this — only 1.9 percent of homes are affordable.


Changes Cont’d

Alterations made to the mayor’s budget proposal by his staff continue to cause confusion and complication as the City Council and its independent budget analyst work their way through the budget, according to an internal memo.

The Mayor’s Office first presented a budget April 14, but his staff was found to be changing information in the system weeks later, a practice that the IBA found to be concerning.

In recent weeks, the Mayor’s Office has released two supplements to its budget and one memo outlining possible changes. In a follow-up memo dated May 15, Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin said that the release of these documents continued to make her analysis of the budget difficult and confuse the council members in their deliberations.

“Three documents have now been submitted with inconsistencies from one document to another,” the memo reads. “While providing transparency is important, the release of the new documents with differing numbers and the incorporation of numerous changes in the budget system have caused a great deal of confusion.”

Chief Financial Officer Jay Goldstone said the changes were largely technical and part of the growing pains associated with the city’s new form of government. He also said his staff was stretched thin in trying to put together the budget since arriving at the city in February.

Tevlin’s final recommended changes to the mayor’s budget are scheduled to be released Friday morning. Stay tuned for more on that.

On another budget note: the mayor tomorrow will endorse the IBA’s plan to immediately hire 30 civilians in the Police Department. The move comes in hopes of freeing the alarmingly low number of uniformed cops from desk duty and getting them onto the streets.


City Could Pay More

The city is required by the terms of a legal settlement to put $162 million from the fiscal year 2007 budget into the pension system, according to a report from the pension system’s actuary released today. 

However, the report says: “This does not mean that the City should not consider contributing a larger amount for FY 2007. Any amounts contributed in excess of the amounts computed here would serve to improve the funding status of the System and reduce what otherwise would become City computed contributions in the future.”

This is an important distinction because folks such as city administrators past and present often say they are covering their legal obligations by paying the amount mandated by the 2004 Gleason settlement. That’s fine. But what about providing sound financing of the system? The settlement, after all, provides merely a legal floor for payments, not a ceiling.

Mayor Jerry Sanders, if unable to float a pension borrowing plan this year, has proposed simply making the $162 million payment, despite admitting that it is likely on the low side. Not paying a higher amount simply means pushing off until another year the pension problem, as pension experts agree that a payment of at least $200 million would likely be needed to keep the pension deficit from growing.

The pension system’s actuary delivered the city its $162 million bill — which was lower than many had expected — in March, but didn’t have the backup report completed to support his conclusions.

We received that report, known as the 2005 actuarial valuation, today. It also says that:

— For the first time since 2000, the system didn’t lose money in 2005. The system had losses of $193 million, $364 million, $303 million and $58 million in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004, respectively. The system registered a net increase of $36 million, boosted by $82.5 million in investment gains.

— If the pension system used a more conservative, traditional form of accounting for its liabilities (known as EAN), the pension deficit would grow from $1.4 billion to $1.6 billion. Right now the system uses a structure known as PUC, which isn’t used very frequently by public pension systems in the state.

— Benefits that were kept out of the system’s normal bookkeeping siphoned $11 million out of the fund’s investment earnings. Experts agree that these benefits should be tucked into the pension system’s normal bookkeeping and be paid for directly from the city’s annual operating budget.

The report already has come under fire because like past reports it continues to be based on many of the assumptions and accounting practices that have been identified as key culprits in the pension system’s downfall. However, until the City Council or full pension board officially makes those changes, consultants will likely keep using them to produce reports.

If you’re quite fond of actuarial science or locked in a small cage with Internet access and nothing better to do, you can read the report here.

The report will be presented and discussed at a pension board hearing Friday afternoon.


U-Haul One-Way

If you want to rent a U-Haul to go from Anaheim to Phoenix, it will cost $974. Want to move from Phoenix to Anaheim, however, and it’s a bargain at $136.

Or you could join the growing ranks of California homeowners and businesses gambling on Las Vegas. A U-Haul from Anaheim to Sin City will set you back $1,039. Losers or winners who flee to Anaheim, however, pay a puny $199.

Those figures were dug up by the folks over at Sullivan Group Real Estate Advisors in Del Mar. They used the figures in a presentation this morning to illustrate a growing trend of people moving out of the state to more affordable real estate elsewhere.

Look out for more insights from the Sullivan team into where San Diego’s housing market is headed in the story we will run tomorrow.


Lerach Not Charged

The nation’s most prolific securities class-action law firm, Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman, was indicted today on 20 counts of bribery, perjury, obstruction of justice and fraud.

Not included in the indictment is San Diego’s William Lerach, a former partner in the firm and one of the city’s more prominent donors to national political campaigns.

Read the New York Times account of the indictment for more.


Tentative: SDCERA Billing OK

A Superior Court judge has tentatively dismissed a lawsuit against the county’s pension system Thursday, saying that the local accountant who filed the suit did not have a significant standing in the matter and provisionally rejected her claim that the county pension board was allowing the Board of Supervisors to pay off its pension debt in an unlawfully slow manner.

April Boling, who chaired the Pension Reform Committee that suggested ways to cure ills related to the city’s handling of its retirement plan, sued the San Diego County Employees Retirement Association in January. She alleged that the way SDCERA bills the county allows the Board of Supervisors to make no progress in paying down its billion-dollar pension debt.

Judge Yuri Hoffman said the SDCERA board is allowed to let the county pay off its bill over 30 years. The county of San Diego is currently on a 20-year schedule.

Boling claims that the 30-year “amortization” requirement for SDCERA means that each annual payment must reduce the debt. Between the 2004 and 2005 pension bills, the county’s pension deficit grew from $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion — a result of “negative amortization” that Boling argued was illegal under the state law governing county pension systems.

“The normal use of that word (amortizing) is that you’re extinguishing, you’re paying something down,” said attorney Michael Conger, who represented Boling in the case.

SDCERA CEO Brian White was unavailable for comment immediately, but dismissed Boling’s claims in January.

“I’m somewhat at a loss here to see what her arguments are. The law allows up for 30-year amortization period, and the term for this installment payment method is for 20 years,” White said.

The judge also said that Boling did not have a right to sue the county because SDCERA serves the interests of the pension fund’s beneficiaries, not county taxpayers.

“A taxpayer suit may not be used as a vehicle to challenge the Board’s lawful exercise of its discretion under the California Constitution and [other state law],” Hoffman wrote in his tentative ruling.

Conger disagreed, saying, “Right now, the county is borrowing from the pension fund at 8.25 percent that the taxpayers will have to pay back. Obviously they should have a say about how their taxes are spent.”

Oral arguments for the case will be heard tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. in Department 60 of the San Diego Superior Court.


Cross “Misunderstandings”

In a blistering attack on San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, attorney James McElroy has sent a letter to the City Council picking apart the mayor’s recent attempt to “save the cross.” McElroy is the attorney representing San Diegan Philip Paulson, who made the original complaint about the cross back in 1991. The letter can be viewed here.

Last week, Sanders sent a letter to President Bush asking him to personally intervene and transfer the cross to federal land using eminent domain. In making that call, Sanders argued that there are many legal precedents that exist at a federal level that would allow a Latin cross to remain on public land.

There’s been no word from the White House. I’ve been calling them daily, just because I like telling my wife “I was on the phone with the White House today.”

The city is facing down a 90-day deadline (which is now down to 76 days) to obey U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson Jr.’s order to remove the cross from public land. On May 23, the council will, essentially, be asked if they want to continue fighting the cross battle.

That will involve asking for a stay of Thompson’s decision as well as appealing a decision by another judge, Patricia Yim Cowett, who ruled that last year’s Proposition A

McElroy sent his letter, a copy of which was obtained by voiceofsandiego.org to all the city council members. In it, he attacks Sanders’ argument in favor of transferring the cross to federal land and also takes issue with the mayor’s assertion that the battle is over a war memorial and not over the cross.

“The Mayor’s representation to our citizens that he has such legal support is simply and unequivocally untrue,” writes McElroy. “There are no federal court decisions or California decisions permitting the permanent presence of a Latin cross on any public land, whether that land is part of a secular memorial or not. But you need not take my word for that.”

McElroy goes on to argue his case with the aid of several case citations.

“Apparently the Mayor is getting bad legal advice and I am quite certain he is not getting it from Mr. (San Diego City Attorney) Aguirre’s office.”

(Aguirre has made it pretty clear that he does not support the mayor’s actions on the cross. He has also stated many times previously that he believes the cross to be unconstitutional.)

Here’s the last section of McElroy’s letter:

“It is time for this Council to assert itself and to stop this lawlessness and this indefensible expenditure of taxpayers funds on a case that, after 17 years, surely cannot be won. Our police officers haven t had a raise in three years. The firefighters union just agreed to take less money to help the City out of its financial distress. How can we look them in the eye while and vote to throw away more taxpayer money on a case the City hasn’t been able to win in 17 years and will never be able to win. Our fine City has lost its credibility with the courts on this issue and may be headed for some very disastrous consequences. Our citizens deserve some professional and intelligent leadership. It is time, it is well past time, to honor the court decisions and our constitution and to respect veterans and citizens of all faiths, not just Christians. Each of you swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and to obey our laws. It is time to honor that oath.”


Up in the Air

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s advisory committee met earlier today and produced a mixed response on a recommendation about the airport site-selection process.

The 30-member committee, which solely serves in an advisory role, endorsed several different options, chairman Jim Panknin said. About 20 members attended today.

Two members supported joint commercial-military use of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

Four members opposed two desert sites in Boulevard and Imperial County, while saying they had concerns about joint-use problems at Miramar, wanted civilian-only use of the base and thought the military should leave the base.

Three members said Lindbergh Field would be sufficient to meet the region’s air capacity needs.

Seven members took no formal position.

The authority’s strategic planning committee will get a brief on the meeting when it convenes Monday morning. A heads up to regular attendees: The meeting starts at 8 a.m. at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina on Harbor Island.


Brown Act Boo-Boo

City Attorney Mike Aguirre has admitted to a local attorney’s assertion that he was unfairly cut off from testifying at a council meeting last month.

Cory Briggs, an attorney representing an affordable housing advocacy group, claims the City Council violated the state’s public meeting law by not allowing him to speak during the April 3 council meeting when the council decided to change the way it assesses affordable housing fees on developers.

Briggs claimed that he did not request to speak until after the Housing Commission staff member presented the city’s recommendation, which had changed. Briggs said he wanted to see the report before deciding how to comment on it. The state Brown Act, he said, allows him the chance to submit a speaker slip after the staff report, although Council President Scott Peters said at the time he could not.

Aguirre said Briggs will be given 10 minutes the next time the affordable housing fee comes up before council. Normally, public speakers are given three minutes to address the City Council.


Cross Talk

City Attorney Mike Aguirre will discuss the city of San Diego’s options for legal appeals over the Mount Soledad Cross on Wednesday. A federal judge ruled this month that the cross must be removed from its hilltop perch by August or the city will incur $5,000 fines daily.

One idea that is currently being supported by Mayor Jerry Sanders and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, is to allow the federal government to condemn the land as a national veterans memorial.

The forum will be held tonight from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the City Hall’s council chambers, located on the 12th floor of 202 C St. in downtown.


The Cart and the Horse

Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Barton is slated to rule June 23 on City Attorney Mike Aguirre’s assertion that pension deals struck between the city and its retirement board in 1996 and 2002 are illegal, but Aguirre’s legal opponents want him to prove that he has the authority to bring the case before Barton’s judgment is made.

Ruling on a lawsuit before determining whether it could be filed in the first place was like putting the cart before the horse, they said.

“I think it would be a waste of time and money for all involved,” said attorney Frank Vecchione, who represents former retirement trustee Terri Webster.

So ex-retirement trustee John Torres asked Barton today to postpone his decision about whether retirement enhancements created in the pension deals can be rolled back until the judge rules whether Aguirre can bring the case at all.

Torres has successfully had the case against him dismissed after claiming Aguirre was not authorized by the City Council to bring the lawsuit, but Barton has allowed Aguirre to amend his lawsuit for the fifth time.

“It’s pretty clear we shouldn’t be in this case to begin with,” said Frank Polek, an attorney for Torres.

The retirement system, Council President Scott Peters and former Mayor Dick Murphy have also asked for the case to be dismissed, using the same argument Torres made. Peters proposes that the council waive the confidentiality of closed session transcripts, which the council president says makes clear that Aguirre can’t file the suit in the name of the city of San Diego.

Barton said in court Wednesday that he’ll deal with both of those issues — Aguirre’s authority and the benefits — on June 23. The cart will come with the horse.


Prez Benefit Delayed?

Judie Italiano announced last week that she was stepping down as president of the city’s largest union once the retirement board approved her pension, but the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System board has hinted that it will not sign off on her pension as expected Friday because of questions the City Attorney’s Office raised about the benefit.

In a memo to the City Council, retirement system administrator David Wescoe said the board would prefer waiting to act on Italiano’s pension until the City Council clarified an apparent inconsistency between the 2002 resolution that codifies the “presidential benefit” and city law.

Executive Assistant City Attorney Don McGrath pointed out to the board last week that the municipal code states the Italiano’s benefit should be based on her city salary as a payroll clerk, while the resolution passed by the City Council says Italiano should be able to combine her union and city salary when figuring her retirement pay. The resolution, McGrath says, is null and void.

Wescoe asked the council to clarify the situation before the SDCERS board approves her pension.

“SDCERS is required to administer its members’ benefits based solely upon your plan design,” Wescoe states. “In order to do that effectively, we need clarification from the Council on this issue.”


Border Fence

Wednesday, May 17, 2006 — 3:35 p.m.

The U.S. Senate reached an 83-16 compromise earlier today, approving 370 miles of border fence and 500 miles of vehicle barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But while published reports streaming out of Washington right now are detailing the compromise — saying it was spurred by President Bush’s Monday night remarks — we don’t yet have details about where the fence is going. A spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, a fence supporter, said he is not yet sure how the Senate fence reconciles with the 698 miles of fencing the House of Representatives approved in December. We’ll let you know where the fence is going when we know.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., invoked Robert Frost in a self-congratulatory press release hailing the amendment he introduced that gained passage.

“Good fences make good neighbors,” Sessions said. “Just go to the San Diego border and talk to the people there. There was lawlessness, drug dealing, gangs and economic depression on both sides of the border. But when they built a fence and brought that section of the border under control, the economy on both sides of the fence blossomed, and crime fell. The fence improved San Diego and it will improve other parts of the border.”

The fence has alarmed local environmentalists, who worry Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will use a newly granted authority to brush aside any laws in the fence’s way. He did so last year, clearing away laws that had prevented the federal government from building a similar barrier in the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, a 2,500-acre salt marsh in southern San Diego.


Strategic Airport Papers

We know you’re still reading the 2,800-page study (from table of contents to the final appendix) released by the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority yesterday.

Here are a few more pages.

The authority’s consultants from Ricondo & Associates will present a summary of the analysis when the authority’s strategic planning committee meets Monday at 8 a.m. It’ll be the first time board members weigh in publicly on the study.

The committee will also take another look at the alternatives considered at Lindbergh Field that have been panned by the board. The issue had been scheduled for discussion in early May; that meeting was canceled.

Here’s one last presentation comparing the financials of each of five sites that have undergone the rigorous authority analysis.


Airport Roundup

A couple of details about the airport authority’s release of the technical analysis didn’t make it in today’s story, and readers have been curious. A bit of extra info:

— The airport authority’s staff is not going to recommend a site. Although Angela Shafer-Payne, the authority’s vice president of strategic planning had previously said the staff would make a specific site recommendation, she said yesterday that The Decision Document’s closing pages 

— No plan is in place to close or redevelop Lindbergh Field if the authority board chooses options that involve building a new airport elsewhere. Under the current agreement between the authority and the Unified Port District of San Diego, the property would be returned to the port. The authority’s financing package for a new airport wouldn’t get a boost from Lindbergh’s potential sale.

— And anyone following the debate should pick up today’s Wall Street Journal, or check out this story online(registration is required.)

The Journal examines the effects the airline industry’s financial woes are having on airports throughout the world. Low-cost airlines have more sway, and airports are building sparser terminals to accommodate them. The lower the charges an airline must pay to use the terminal, the more likely a flight can move from the red into the black.

“Nowadays if you start to build a new terminal, you are no longer able to build a castle,” Michael Garvens, chairman of Germany’s Cologne Bonn Airport told the paper.

At Amsterdam’s airport, a terminal was built in nine months for $38 million, the WSJ story says. So what do you get for $38 million? Not much. Passengers there complain that they have to walk 20 minutes to get to a bathroom. The new terminal has only one. “If you just communicate well to them, the passengers know that they have to go to the bathroom in the beginning,” an airport spokeswoman told the Journal.

So that’s how that works.

The paper contrasts that with the grandeur of a new terminal at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, which is forcing the city’s airport authority to run budget deficits. Listen to the reporter describe it: “The terminal has soaring curved ceilings that sparkle in shades of white with some gray and silver accents. Floors are terrazzo throughout; a three-story, pink granite wall stretches for half a mile. The terminal is decorated with nearly $9 million of modern art, including a giant floor-to-ceiling ‘fish tank’ with plastic cubes, rather than fish, swirling in the current.”


Poll Workers Needed

Another 2,000 citizens are needed to operate polling places for the upcoming June 6 election, county Registrar Mikel Haas announced Wednesday.

“I would not describe the situation as ‘dire’ … but I don’t want to understate the situation either,” Haas said in a press statement. “Thousands of citizens have come forward to serve on Election Day, but not enough.”

To be eligible to work a polling place, an individual must be a registered voter. Poll workers make between $75 and $150 per day, depending on their duties. The June 6 contest is a primary election, and will include races for governor, Congress, state Legislature, sheriff and some City Council and Board of Supervisor seats.

To volunteer, contact the Registrar of Voters’s Office at (858) 565-5800 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. During other hours, call (858) 694-3480.


Kicked Back

Tenet Healthcare Corp. will sell or close Alvarado Hospital and pay the federal government $21 million to resolve allegations that the hospital sent kickbacks to physicians to induce referrals to the hospital.

The 311-bed College Area hospital had been the focus of federal charges alleging that the hospital and former CEO Barry Weinbaum recruited new doctors to San Diego with lucrative financial deals and disguised payments to the doctors as overhead costs.

Tenet, a Dallas-based company that operates 73 hospitals nationwide, must sell or close Alvarado “within a specified period of time” or else it would have been excluded from all federal health care programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. The timeframe was not specified in news releases from Tenet and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The announcement would end Tenet’s operation of San Diego hospitals — a troubled history. In 1994, the psychiatric hospital division of Tenet Healthcare pleaded guilty to violating a federal anti-kickback law. In 1996, Charles Trojan, the CEO of Southwood Psychiatric Hospital was convicted in San Diego federal court of sending a threatening letter to a potential witness in the investigation. Last year, Mina Nazaryan, Alvarado’s executive in charge of physician recruitment, pleaded guilty to the recruitment kick-back conspiracy.

“Tenet’s agreement to sell Alvarado Hospital ensures that this egregious pattern of kickbacks in San Diego has truly come to an end,” U.S. Attorney Carol Lam said in a release. “This resolution should restore the public’s confidence that physicians are selecting hospitals based on the best medical interests of their patients and not on hidden financial benefits.”

Criminal charges will be dropped against Weinbaum, Tenet and Alvarado Hospital as part of the agreement.


I Had a Dream

History’s greatest civil rights and justice cries greet visitors to icrusader.org.

“Because we have suffered, and we are not afraid to suffer, in order to survive, we are ready to give up everything — even our lives — in our struggle for justice,” reads one quote from civil rights hero Cesar Chavez — though the Web site misspells his name as “Ceasar.”

Each page of the site boasts a different picture or quote from the leaders of the United States’ greatest civil rights movements. “I have a dream, that one day men of all races will be treated equally,” reads another from Martin Luther King, Jr.

Such rally cries are familiar fair in the organization of labor campaigns and civil rights movements, but their employment on one San Diego-based Web site is raising eyebrows because of who’s running the site: the San Diego Building Industry Association.

The site is the public face to a grassroots movement to mobilize an already strong political base within the building industry. Through an electronic database, the BIA notifies a portion of the estimated 165,000 people employed in the building industry countywide when a political issue arises that will affect the industry. The electronic notification includes a form letter that can be fired off to the appropriate politician.

The BIA is marketing the software through the Web site in order to sell it to other organizations.”Those are historical activists, people who affected great change through grassroots efforts,” said Donna Morafcik, the BIA’s vice president of communication, when asked about the use of figures such as Chavez and King. “We find it very inspirational. It’s not a partisan issue.”

Steve Erie, a UCSD political science professor, found the use Orwellian.

“It’s like war is peace and night is day. These were progressive agents of change and the BIA is probably the most reactionary organization in San Diego,” he said.


Real Estate Worries

Christopher Thornberg, a senior analyst at the University of California, Los Angeles Anderson Forecast has a word of warning about the housing slowdown.

Dropping real estate prices won’t just hurt homeowners in over their heads, Thornberg said. In California, there are very real worries that reduced prices will equate to reduced incomes for the state, and a serious collapse in real estate could have many knock-on effects to the economy as a whole.

“In 2005 brokerage commission fees nationally tallied in at something close to $100 billion. California’s share of this is probably at least 15%, or $15 billion or more. If the average broker pays 7.5% state income tax on this, this suggests that the drop in sales of homes will cause a $1 billion hit to the state in proprietors income alone. Throw in taxes paid by mortgage brokers and residential developers and you can see the revenue problems that will start to accumulate in the latter part of this year,” writes Thornberg in the quarterly Anderson Forecast East Bay Economic Outlook.

That’s the bad news for government coffers, but there’s more doom and gloom to come, writes Thornberg.

“The spillover to the rest of the economy will be noticeable. State employment growth will slow to 1%, and taxable sales growth will slow to 4%. With taxable sales slowing along with income, the state will start feeling the pinch. Do not expect the dramatic collapse we saw in 2001, but then again we have less room to spare.”

That Thornberg, he’s always so negative. He should talk to those folks over at the California Association of Realtors.

You can check out the report, which is a fascinating late-night read, here.


City/Chargers Agree

Earlier today we reported that the city of San Diego and the Chargers were having a tough time agreeing as to whether the City Council had gone far enough in its vote two weeks ago to actually allow the team to negotiate with other parties within San Diego county.

We just got word that the issue has been resolved. The Chargers are now officially able to speak with other parties.

“We are excited about the prospects of exploring options in San Diego County. We hope this lease amendment will help unleash new energy, and new ideas and new participants in the process,” said team spokesman Mark Fabiani. “We will begin immediately to meet with anyone and everyone who is interested in the county, as well as conduct our own review of sites in the county.”


Realtor Money Quote

Today’s prize for putting a positive spin on the real estate market goes to David Lereah, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors.

“With the supply of homes picking up very nicely in many areas of the country, pressure is coming off of home prices. By the time we report second quarter data, I expect most areas will be returning to normal rates of price growth in the single-digit range. Consumers generally can expect normal price appreciation for the foreseeable future, providing solid returns over time.”

I guess an inventory that, according to real estate brokers ZipRealty, now stands at 20,240 or nearly 10 times what it was two years ago, counts as the supply picking up nicely.

“Pressure coming off prices” presumably refers to San Diego’s six-month price drop.


Term Limit Call

A group calling itself San Diego Term Limits will announce tomorrow an initiative campaign that would enforce term limits on the county Board of Supervisors.

“It’s time to end the tenor of career politicians who can’t effectively be removed from office due to incumbency and the difficulty of raising funds with a $500 contribution limit,” Richard Rider, co-chairman of the group and former San Diego mayoral candidate, said in a press release.

The move has been threatened recently by a group of medicinal marijuana advocates, and it was thought that labor groups could one day make a similar push. Rider is the region’s most vocal libertarian leader.

The current supervisors are all Republicans and have served together as a group for more than a decade.

San Diego Term Limits wants to place the initiative on the November ballot. The group gives as its reasons: the county’s $1.4 billion pension deficit, suggestions of “obscene pay raises” and “hanky panky and corruption.”

The group will ask supervisors to place the initiative on the ballot, and if they refuse, will seek the signatures needed to do so. Most term limit programs limit politicians to serving two terms in office. San Diego city government has such limits, as does the state Legislature and presidency.


Broadway News

The annual Tony Award nominees for theater and musicals were released today and La Jolla Playhouse has a thing or two to celebrate. “Jersey Boys,” the La Jolla Playhouse-born musical, is the recipient of eight nominations.

Several weeks ago, voiceofsandiego.org reporter Will Carless sat down with LJP’s artistic director (and two-time Tony Award winner) Des McAnuff. Read the interview here.

“Jersey Boys” opened at La Jolla Playhouse under McAnuff’s direction last year and then moved to New York’s Broadway where it has been — obviously — very successful.

McAnuff is nominated for “Best Direction in a Musical.” “Jersey Boys” has also been nominated for eight Drama Desk Awards.


Airport Costs Part II

Here’s an update on the estimated costs of building a new airport at the three military bases. We reported earlier that environmental mitigation estimates were included in the total price tag.

They’re not.

Price tag at a Naval Air Station North Island/Lindbergh Field airport (building a new runway at the Naval base on Coronado): $8.7 billion to $8.9 billion. Also included is the tunnel under San Diego Bay, a construction project estimated to cost $2.1 billion.

Price tag to build two new runways and a terminal at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar: $6.9 billion to $7.7 billion.

Price tag for two new runways and a terminal at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton: $7.1 billion to $8 billion.

The Miramar airport would have the greatest noise impacts, subjecting an estimated 10,765 homes to aircraft noise above 65 decibels. (That’s the Federal Aviation Administration’s threshold for measuring who is adversely impacted.) It would affect 18,471 residents. It would almost entirely result from the military jets that train to land on aircraft carriers. The planes have to make a southern loop as they circle to land, and two new civilian runways proposed in the Miramar concept would force those flights south over the Kearny Mesa area.

If those training operations were moved from Miramar, fewer than 10 San Diego residents would be affected by noise from a commercial airport there.

Noise from a Lindbergh Field/North Island hybrid would impact about 4,000 more people than the two airport do currently. Lindbergh adversely affects 14,000 people; North Island’s operations affect another 4,000.

A Camp Pendleton airport would affect about 4,000 people in 1,400 homes.

For more about the culmination of the technical analyses that are critical pieces of the airport authority’s site-selection process, check out voiceofsandiego.org tomorrow.


City Will Sue AIG

The city of San Diego will be pursuing a case against its insurance carrier for the Roque de la Fuente cases after the insurer’s “bad faith action” to abandon its obligation to pay the city for the damages de la Fuente is seeking, the City Attorney’s Office announced today.

After a federal judge determined in March that the three cases de la Fuente filed against the city were all supposed to be covered by AIG, the city will now pursue a ruling to force the carrier to pay all attorney fees already incurred, any that will be racked up in the future and a judgment against the city that is pending in appellate court for more than $100 million.

De la Fuente sued the city for blocking his development permits for a business park development near Otay Mesa and imposing unnecessary restrictions and inappropriate taxes on the development, thereby devaluing his land.



The San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau launched its new “365 days of ahhhhhhh” marketing campaign today during a press conference at the Museum of Photographic Art.

Though it may be hard to convey through the print media, the ahhhhhhh (with 7 “h”s) is in fact a feeling of “active relaxation.”

“‘Ahhhhhhh’ is that moment when the physical and the emotional come together in perfect harmony,” said Michael Mark, chief executive officer of NYCA, the Encinitas-based advertising firm that put together the television spots. “It is a beautifully simple, highly memorable, deeply relevant promise.”

Before debuting the advertising campaign, Mark explained that the TV spots “feature a series of vignettes, all capturing ‘ahhhhhhh’ moments. The relaxing ‘ahhhhhhh’ moment, the exhilarating ‘ahhhhhhh’ moment, the playful ‘ahhhhhhh’ moment and the inspiring ‘ahhhhhhh’ moment.”

Mayor Jerry Sanders, along with many of the head honchos of the San Diego tourism industry, dropped by to check out ConVis’ new commercials, which feature children scampering along the city’s pristine shoreline and petting the heads of giraffes at the San Diego Zoo.

Sanders was supported heavily by the tourism industry. He promised to be a cheerleader for the city and industry during last year’s campaign and his office has championed the industry’s impact on the city.

The organization plans to air the spots on CNN, Bravo, E!, The Food Network, TLC, VH1, The Travel Channel and Fine Living.

The campaign will cost $2.9 million. This year, ConVis is slated to receive $8.8 million in city funds under Sanders’ proposed budget. It is the first year since fiscal year 2004 that the industry group hasn’t experienced a cut in its city funds.


Chargers Committee OK’d

The county Board of Supervisors voted this morning to form a subcommittee to handle negotiations with the Chargers football club over its desire for a new stadium.

Supervisors Ron Roberts and Dianne Jacob proposed the formation of the subcommittee and will serve as its two members. The move comes weeks after the San Diego City Council signaled its intention to amend the team’s lease and allow it to speak with parties within San Diego County ahead of Jan. 1, when the process will be open to national competition.

“At this juncture, we don’t yet know if county government has a role to play, but talk is cheap and it doesn’t hurt to explore opportunities,” Jacob said.

Jacob noted that Petco Park served as a catalyst to downtown and said it was worthwhile studying the impacts of a new football stadium on job growth, tourist attraction, securing future Super Bowls and so forth.

“Can a new stadium serve as a kind of kindling to light an economic fire for the region?” she said. “I’m certainly willing to consider it.”

Many academics say that the public should base stadium decisions on what professional sports teams mean to a region emotionally and culturally, and caution not to decide based on claims that such teams are great economic engines.

“Perhaps, at the end of the day, the county will have no role in the development of a new stadium. But, given the city’s decision to bow out, I think we owe it to the people of San Diego to at least try to keep the Chargers in the region.  They are an important part of our history, and hopefully our future,” Roberts said. “The county of San Diego is certainly in a position to help. We’re in strong financial shape because we have a good track record of spending taxpayer dollars wisely and efficiently.”

Click here for the full text 

On another note, two weeks after the City Council approved the amendment to the lease, the Chargers still don’t believe they’re able to speak with other parties because of the manner in which the council approved the change. Team officials believe an official ordinance needs to be passed by the council for it to be freed from the lease, something that would require a formal second hearing of the item before the City Council. City officials believe a simple resolution is all that it takes.

Stay tuned as the two sides try to iron it out.


SoCal Sales Slowing

It’s not just San Diego that’s feeling the pinch from the slowing real estate market.

A press release just put out by DataQuick, a local real estate information service, says that sales are down throughout Southern California.

Sales are at their slowest rate since 2001 across the region, DataQuick reported. As we reported last week, sales in San Diego County are at their lowest rate since April 1995. DataQuick analysts said the slowing in sales is the result of higher mortgage interest rates and a decrease in buyer urgency.

In addition, prices in Southern California rose at single-digit rates for the first time in more than four years, DataQuick said.

“March and April have shown us that the boom phase of this cycle is behind us, so now it’s just a question of how the cycle ends. Right now it looks like changes in the real estate market are happening gradually. But there’s a lot of uncertainty among analysts regarding the effect of higher interest rates and how fast the economy is generating demand in regional markets,” Marshall Prentice, DataQuick president was quoted in the press release as saying.

Despite the region’s recent splurge on adjustable rate mortgages, DataQuick also pointed out that ARMs have lost their luster over the last few months. The company didn’t provide any stats to back up that statement. 

That’s a crucial point, because many analysts are watching what’s going to happen to those ARMs. As the payments on those mortgages rise out of their initial low starter rates, some analysts are concerned that there could be more foreclosures in the region, which could push prices down.

We’ll keep watching.


Airport Costs

You may have to scroll down a long way (it’s on page 97 of 102,) but The Decision Document outlines the costs of building an airport on the military bases at Miramar, Camp Pendleton and North Island.

They’re a bit more reasonable than building in the desert.

Miramar: $5.9 billion, including $900 million to $1.7 billion for potential environmental mitigation.

Camp Pendleton: $6.2 billion. Potential environmental mitigation: $800 million to $1.7 billion.

A North Island-Lindbergh Field hybrid (with a tunnel beneath San Diego Bay): $5.7 billion with potential environmental mitigation of $3 billion to $3.2 billion.

Compare that with a Boulevard airport ($16.6 billion) and an Imperial County airport ($17.4 billion.) Those include estimated costs of building a magnetic levitation train to the distant sites.

We’re still digesting the reports. Stay tuned for updates throughout the day.


Airport Documents

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority has released its final analyses and studies of potential airport sites — including military bases at Miramar, Camp Pendleton and North Island.

Included is something the authority’s consultants call The Decision Document, an in-depth wrap-up of all the analyses and the history of San Diego’s airport search. Check it out here.

Other documents are available at the authority’s Website.

The authority is holding a media briefing at 11:30 a.m. We’ll post more details afterward.


Legal Opinions

Anticipating today’s budget hearing, City Attorney Mike Aguirre blasted e-mails to his supporters last week, calling on them to ask the City Council to approve the mayor’s proposal to increase his office’s funding for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The council, who has the final say on the city budget, has received many letters in support and in opposition of the fiery city attorney.

“We finally have a city attorney, Mike Aguirre, who is the ‘Elliot Ness’ of modern times,” Lou Heyn told all of the council members via e-mail last Wednesday.

Not everyone was as cheery about Aguirre, who has rankled many because of his management style, accusatory tone toward many current council members and his handling of the city’s pension and investigatory matters.

“It is my belief that the City Attorney has abused the power allowed him under the Charter and has usurped powers not granted him under the Charter in order to advance a personal agenda which includes destruction of many innocent lives, interference with the orderly operations of the city, and advancement of the personal economic interests of certain of his friends and supporters,” wrote Lisa Cairncross on Wednesday. “The list of other offenses is too lengthy to address.”

Several supporters and foes weighed in this afternoon. Check tomorrow’s issue for a full story on the budget hearing.


Tijuana Cop Games

A few months ago, we ran a story that followed San Diegan Graham McMillan as he fought a battle with the Tijuana Police Department.

McMillan claimed that he had been roughed up and extorted by a pair of Tijuana police officers when he visited the border city for a day last summer. The policemen, McMillan said, took his ATM card and withdrew more than $400 as a bribe.

I followed McMillan as he took his fight across the border to the Tijuana police. I also traveled there myself to interview the Tijuana chief of police. He assured me that the two officers would be hunted down and punished for their crimes.

McMillan did, eventually, get his cash back from the police. But that wasn’t his main battle. He wanted to see the perpetrators brought to justice and he kept on fighting and fighting. Indeed, he’s now been fighting for the best part of the year to have the two policemen removed from active duty.

Here’s what he wrote to me today in an email:

“Just an update on my case.  Not much to report; in February (after several trips back to the Baja State Attorney’s office to complete a formal complaint), my complaint was sent to the judge.  It’s been sitting on his or her desk ever since.  I bug my State Attorney case worker about it each fortnight, and each time he tells me it will be processed in the next two weeks (for sure this time!!) but nothing ever happens.

McMillan’s being aided in his fight for justice by Ascan Lutteroth, a community activist in Tijuana who heads up a couple of powerful activist groups.

If anything ever happens to these allegedly corrupt policemen, we’ll keep you updated.


Junk Fax

Monday, May 15, 2006 — 3:52 p.m.

Getting junk faxes? Need some extra dough for that tight budget? Yes, the city of San Diego can be a model for at least some variety of fiscal policy. City Councilwoman Donna Frye and City Attorney Mike Aguirre announced today a settlement of $428,000 from Fax.com.

The city sued Fax.com for violating federal laws that are supposed to protect consumers from unsolicited advertisements over fax and phone lines. Frye began tracking the unsolicited faxes to her office in 2003 and urged the City Attorney’s Office to take action after her requests to be removed from the fax lists were ignored by the company.


Request Denied

Council President Scott Peters has denied a voiceofsandiego.org request for details related to the purchase of stock of the parent company to one of the city’s most prominent consultants.

Last month, we reported that Peters owned more than $100,000 in stock in Marsh & McLennan Co. while voting on $16.2 million in contracts for Kroll Inc., a consulting firm staffing the city’s controversial audit committee. (Peters, whose wife’s investment portfolio is vast, said he was unaware of the connection. The council was later forced to revote on the contracts because of Peters’ previous participation.)

Peters’ wife, Lynn Gorguze, is also president of an investment firm that purchased 700 shares of Marsh & McLennan on the day that Kroll was hired in February 2005.

Weeks ago, we requested the following information: dates in which the stock was bought and sold; the date in which the order for the purchase and sale went in; the price the stock was bought and sold; and the amounts of stock bought and sold.

Peters has denied our request and has said that the purchase date was coincidental. He has denied a similar request from the City Attorney’s Office, which is investigating the matter.

In a letter to the City Attorney’s Office last week, Peters’ attorney Jim Sutton said the office can’t investigate any potential conflict-of-interest allegations because the office is supposed to advise council members on conflict-of-interest issues.

“Although Council President Peters would of course be willing to cooperate in any investigation conducted by any other non-conflicted enforcement authority, he can not respond to your request,” Sutton wrote.


Refund for Water Dept.

Mayor Jerry Sanders recommended today that the City Council refund $600,000 to the Water Department and restore control of the Chollas Reservoir to the city’s Park and Recreation Department in response to a San Diego County Grand Jury probe into the city’s management of service level agreements.

In April, a county grand jury said San Diego was subsidizing its general fund by overcharging self-sustaining departments such as the Water Department and the Metropolitan Wastewater Department for staff and equipment.

“It shouldn’t have taken a grand jury to detail these reports,” Sanders said today during a press conference. “We should have done that ourselves.”

The report said the Water Department transferred $600,000 from its enterprise funds to the city’s general fund for storing water in the Chollas Reservoir and noted that neither the city’s Park and Recreation Department nor the Water Department could justify the transfer. Sanders’ plan called for that money to be refunded to the Water Department out of the city’s fiscal year 2006 budget.

The mayor also ordered the cancellation of an agreement between the Water and Park and Recreation departments valued at more than $800,000 in which the latter provided concessions services to the former.

The Grand Jury report concluded that with respect to those services, “rate payers are subsidizing (Park and Recreation) functions which provide little or no benefit to the water system or water ratepayers.”

During the press conference, Sanders also announced that former Navy Capt. James Barrett will take over as director of the Water Department and acting director Charles Yackly will resume his role in the No. 2 spot.


Budget Briefs

Members of the San Diego City Council have submitted their recommended tweaks to the mayor’s proposed budget for next year, and the popular messages being sent by officials are to boost the budgets for police, parks and recreation, graffiti removal and the Ethics Commission.

This is the second time the council has formally provided input regarding the programs they want to see funded in next year’s budget.

At least three council members explicitly said they want to increase those budgets, although several other budget suggestions — mostly for spending — were found in the officials’ letters. Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin is expected to weigh the suggestions, some of which had been made during the council’s ongoing budget hearings, before releasing a budget report Friday.

Council President Scott Peters and council members Toni Atkins, Kevin Faulconer and Jim Madaffer said they supported the independent budget analyst’s recommendation to hire 30 civilians to work police desk jobs currently performed by sworn officers, who could then be dispatched to patrol the streets. Hiring 30 civilians would cost about $2 million, which would cost less than hiring the same amount of badge-and-gun cops.

The same four council members also wanted to boost the Ethics Commission’s budget by about $200,000 to pay for an additional investigator and training officer.

Atkins and council members Ben Hueso and Tony Young asked for the city’s graffiti removal budget to be augmented by a few hundred thousand dollars because the rules governing federal community development block grants have changed to prohibit their use for graffiti removal.

Several council members also said they were unsure how new parks and recreation and library facilities will be paid for next year, because staffing levels appear the same as this year’s in the mayor’s proposals. Atkins, Madaffer and Councilman Brian Maienschein said they want to ensure those libraries and rec centers are properly staffed, which is estimated to cost up to $2 million.

Three council members also wanted more control over how hotel tax money is spent. Hueso, Young and Madaffer said each council office should be given a share of that revenue to spend at their own discretion to promote programs and events within their districts.

Madaffer and Faulconer also said that parking enforcement officers should be hired to make sure that roads slated for a street sweep are not obstructed by parked cars. The councilmen say those additional positions would pay for themselves with the parking tickets the new officers hand out.

But not all departments the council wants to boost funding for will pay for themselves, and the budget will have to be balanced by the time it’s approved. Check back later today as we spell out some of the council members’ suggestions for raising revenue.


Aguirre Weighs In

City Attorney Michael Aguirre said he will ask for an audience with Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, to ensure that the federal government’s top law enforcement official is adequately briefed on the Mount Soledad Cross issue.

Last week, U.S. Rep Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, and San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders both wrote letters to President Bush asking him to intervene in the Soledad Cross debate. They asked Bush to take the cross and the land it sits on by eminent domain and to transfer it into the National Park Service.

Aguirre, who has expressed his concern at the way Sanders and Hunter have handled the cross issue, said he wants to ensure that the administration fully understands the implications of weighing in on the matter.

“I have said before that this may be viewed by the San Diego Superior and United States District Courts as being in violation of judicial orders and could result in a contempt finding or sanctions against the City of San Diego,” Aguirre said Friday.

As for the president, a New York Times story (registration required) this morning says that Christian groups are growing increasingly disillusioned with Bush. They want the president to get tough on issues like abortion, gay marriage and censorship.

You can bet the same groups would applaud a move by the president to “save” the Soledad Cross.

With the letters sent out last week, it’s fair to say the cross issue may end up in the Oval Office. Whether the president will weigh in on it is another matter, however.

I’ve been calling the White House every hour or so in search of a clue. I’ll update if and when I get anything out of their spokespeople.


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